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Marshall V. King
Marshall V. King writes about restaurants and local food issues. And a lot about what he eats.

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Avoiding gluten not just a diet fad for some people

Being gluten-free is a fad, but if you have celiac disease, it's a lot more than that.

Posted on Feb. 5, 2014 at 4:48 p.m.

For some, being gluten-free is a fad.

It's another way to lose weight.

But then you really want a sandwich and it's all over.

For others, it's lot more serious.

Gluten intolerance isn't the same as celiac disease. And those who have the disease work hard and care a lot about how stories get told.

Last week's column was about Halie Patrick, who had a variety of icky symptoms before learning from her doctor that she was gluten intolerant.

She doesn't know if she has celiac disease. She never pursued the test to find out. She just tries to avoid gluten.

But others do know that they have a disease that will harm them if they continue to eat gluten.

Antoinette Burson is one.

She always dealt with bloating and belching after eating. She dealt with misdiagnosis before finally getting one of celiac disease in 2006.

By that time, she was very sick. She weighed 325 pounds. And tests for allergies indicated she shouldn't eat more than foods with gluten. (She can't eat nuts or shellfish, in addition to gluten.)

Now she's healthier and weighs 211 pounds. "Could be smaller, but I love to cook," she said.

Burson is working on a cookbook. Before she retired she took food to the office and didn't tell her co-workers it was gluten-free. She said the girls with whom she worked had no idea.

She makes pies, cookies, cakes and even dressing, or stuffing. Of course she finds substitutions. "Since I have celiac disease, I can't use flour. You know that," she said.

She uses arrowroot flour or gluten-free Bisquick.

She cooks a lot at home, but she also enjoys eating out and has found restaurants that care for her dietary needs:

Jade Garden, Bruno's Pizza, El Maguey and Applebee's make meals she's enjoyed. She's even taken tortillas to Papa John's and they've topped them and baked them. (Readers recommended the gluten-free pretzel at Jo Jo's Pretzels and the gluten-free cake from Sweet Em's Bakery.)

But mostly Burson cooks as a way to continue to celebrate with food and be healthy. Her digestive system has healed.

"My advice is stick to your diet. If you know you have it, stick to what you can eat," she said.

I've heard both a doctor and a restaurant owner talk about the gluten-free fad recently. They both acknowledged that eating less white carbs isn't bad for anyone.

Reader Ken Yoder called to recommend "Wheat Belly," a book about wheat's effect on our systems. Yoder said he's diabetic and giving up gluten improved his blood sugar.

"I've ditched gluten as of a year ago and it has made a major improvement in my health," he said.

Tanya Slabach-Trick, one of Elkhart County's biggest advocates for people with celiac disease, has the autoimmune disease, as well as her son and daughter. They've experienced the problems with getting it diagnosed properly.

"The biggest thing I have seen in our community is the lack of our doctors and hospitals to properly diagnose celiac and gluten intolerant patients," she wrote in an email. "Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is very prevalent in our community. Our local doctors and hospitals really need to step up and make sure that people in our community can get proper diagnosis and treatment here at home so we don't have to travel two hours away (for) proper treatment."

She said that the availability of gluten-free food has grown a lot and some local health food stores are well-stocked and have knowledgeable staff. Grocery stores and restaurants are better too.

Slabach-Trick explains the difference between the disease and intolerance. Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. Gluten intolerance causes the body to mount a stress response (often GI symptoms) different from the immunological response in those with the disease, she said.

But people learn to live within the limits. And there are success stories such as Slabach-Trick's family and Burson.

"We are all thriving on the gluten free diet," Slabach-Trick said of her family.

Food is powerful in so many ways. It keeps us alive, but can harm us too. And eating well so that you can live well is so important.

I'm hungry. Let's eat.

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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